Eating locusts lauded as swarms sweep Kenya

11Jan 2020
Nairobi
The Guardian
Eating locusts lauded as swarms sweep Kenya

AN AVERAGE swarm of locusts can eat the same amount of food in one day as about 10 elephants, 25 camels or 2,500 people.

And just before they do that in Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit, Isiolo and Meru, entomologists — experts in matters insects — have advised Kenyans to eat them.

They argue that desert locusts have already destroyed more than 70,000 hectares of farmland in Somalia and Ethiopia, where the invasion started, and if you don’t make them a meal, they may deny you one.

But just before you take your basket and head to the fields, you need to know this:

What are desert locusts?

The desert locusts are typically shy, solitary insects that become very aggressive when in crowds.

They are brown in colour when they hatch but turn yellow once they mature. Swarms of locusts can migrate more than 130 kilometers in a day.

Are they the same as grasshoppers?

While they appear almost similar, locusts are different from grasshoppers. First, locusts can move very fast and cover a longer distance than hoppers — up to 130 kilometres in 24 hours. They usually fly with the wind.

Secondly, unlike locusts, most hopper species do not eat and destroy crops.

Are locusts edible?

Yes, says the Entomologists Society of Kenya.

“We encourage the eating of locusts as part of the management of the pest, as well as the adoption of termites and other insects,” says Prof John Nderitu, an integrated pest management specialist at the University of Nairobi.

The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) says locusts are usually stir-fried, roasted or boiled and eaten immediately or dried and eaten later.

Have Kenyans eaten them before?

Again, yes, on the basis of affirmations by Prof Nderitu and other experts.

“The locusts have always been eaten in western Kenya as a delicacy. Half a kilo of termites in Kakamega is more expensive than half a kilo of meat,” says the researcher.

“I ate grasshoppers in the early 1960s when I was young. We just placed them in hot ash for five minutes, removed the head and ate them.”

According to an elder, Jacob Mate Shiamwama from Ilesi in Kakamega East Sub-County, locusts are considered a delicacy in many communities in the region.

“When locusts were sighted, there would be excitement in the villages,” he says.

“People would wait until nightfall, when they had descended and settled on trees and vegetation. They would then collect the locusts and put them in baskets and containers for roasting in pots.”

Dr Esther Kioko, a member of ESK, says the insects were turned into food by residents of Machakos County during a locust invasion in the 1940s.

“During the locust invasion of the 1940s, the insects invaded and ate every green plant. My grandmother and other residents caught and ate the insects. Using the new-found source of food, they survived and were exempted from relief assistance by the colonial government,” she says.

The FAO also backs insect eating as part of many of the world's cultures.

"It is estimated that insect-eating is practised regularly by at least two billion people worldwide," the UN body said in a report.

What is their nutritional value?

According to various nutritional researches, a serving of 100 grammes of desert locust provides 11.5 grammes of fat and 286 milligrammes of cholesterol.

The insect also contains varying amounts of potassium, sodium, phosphorus, calcium, magnesium, iron and zinc.

How, then, do you prepare and serve them?

During the invasion in western Kenya, according to elder Shiamwana, locusts were either roasted in the fire or steamed in pots and a little salt added.

The insects can also be fried in oil for a few minutes until they turn brown and crunchy. Onions, salt and tomatoes can be added according to taste.

Moshe Basson, a chef and founder and owner of the Eucalyptus restaurant in the Israeli capital of Jerusalem, says the insects can be added to boiling broth or a tasty soup made of water in which bones, meat or vegetables have been simmered.

“Drop the locusts into a boiling broth, clean them off, and roll in a mixture of flour, coriander seeds, garlic and chili powder. Then deep-fry them,” he told the BBC during an interview on eating locusts after a 2013 locust invasion in Israel.